Sat, 18 Mar 2000

Police told to probe illegal medicine trading

JAKARTA (JP): While indicating that city officials were implicated in the wrongdoing, Governor Sutiyoso called on the city police on Friday to follow up on the results of a recent raid on distributors of illegal medicine.

"City police must follow up on the results of a recent raid by city officials," he told reporters at City Hall, referring to a raid on Feb. 21 when thousands of antibiotic pills and other prescribed medicines were confiscated from several drugstores.

The raid was organized by a joint team of the City Public Order Office, the City Health Agency, the Jakarta office of the Ministry of Health, City Police detectives, City Military Police headquarters (Pomdam) and the City Food and Medicine Control office (Balai POM).

"We will punish all officials who were involved in distributing the illegal medicines," the governor said.

"It's possible that the officials were really involved in the distribution. But, it's also possible that the officials were only negligent of the regulations," he said, while promising a thorough investigation into the matter.

Coordinator of the team, R. Rachmat S, told reporters earlier in the morning that the team raided four drugstores on Feb. 21. They were Iki Jaya in Glodok, West Jakarta, and Sehat, Sanusi and Muara Tanjung in Pramuka Market, East Jakarta.

"The drugstores sold prescribed medicine. These types of medicines are only allowed to be sold at dispensaries with physicians' prescriptions," Rachmat said.

When asked why it had taken the team so long to reveal the results, he said the planned massive raids on notorious drugstores had been leaked to the owners.

"Once we raided the first four drugstores, other stores around the city discontinued the practice. It was pointless continue our raids. We have to wait," he said.

Most of the medicines were antibiotics, such as amoxycillin and ampicillin. There were also unregistered medicines, which were imported from countries, such as Taiwan and Germany.

"We must investigate these imported medicines, because presently, we have no information about the substances," City Health Agency's head of Pharmacy section Tuti Muliati told reporters.

She said her agency had identified 742 drugstores in the city, but only 307 of them had valid two year licenses.

One of the traders admitted that they sold medicine 40 percent to 50 percent cheaper than those sold at dispensaries.

"I received the medicine from salesmen who regularly sent the drugs to us. But I don't know where the salesmen are from," the trader, who asked for anonymity, said.

Tuti said she could not understand how the drugstores could sell the medicine at cheaper prices.

"They (drugstore owners) might get the medicine directly from the producers. It's also possible that the medicines are fake. We have to test them at POM's drug laboratory," said Tuti.

"The medicines also may have exceeded the expiration dates and that's why prices are much cheaper.

"However, consuming expired medicine can pose threats to a person's health as the drugs may turn into dangerous poisons," she added.

Bogus drugs

Separately, dozens of the huge number of sidewalk medicine traders at several places in the city claimed on Friday that they have no idea if the drugs they are selling were said to be bogus items.

Some street vendors at Roxy, Senen and Tanah Abang areas in Central Jakarta, for example, said they have no capability in differentiating the authentic and the fake ones.

Vendor Udin, 50, from Roxy said that he just bought the drugs from a grocery store and put them on sales at his small kiosk.

"If there are bogus drugs here, I will just return them to the drug stores where I purchased the medicines from," he said.

However, Udin, who started selling medicines on the city streets since 1980s, firmly believed that all items in his kiosk are of the original drugs.

"I think people will produce the bogus ones and offer them at higher prices so that they could gain bigger profit," he said.

The presence of the widely distribution of fake medicines in the capital stunned many people following the last week raid by South Jakarta office of Ministry of Health at Blok A and Mayestik markets.

But medical experts doubted the finding.

Head of internal disease division at Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital, Sulaeman Markum, was quoted on Friday by a local paper that to determine whether the medicines were bogus they should be examined through a comprehensive laboratory test.

"Even medical doctors will find it difficult to identify the difference of the sophisticated packaging," he said.

Vendor Mauludin, who sold medicines at Tanah Abang area, urged public not to immediately blamed the street traders like him on the circulation of the bogus medicines, which could endanger people's life.

"Our price is cheaper because we only take small profits, which something can't be done by pharmacies," he said.

Mauludin said that many sidewalk vendors often sell medicines at the competitive price with the help of hospital employees, who illegally sell the medicines to the traders.

"I myself am not brave enough to do such business. What I've ever done was buying drugs from patients, who did not finish all the medicine as ordered by their doctors," he said.

Other vendor Suryawan from Senen also shared similar experience.

"Such practice is usually done by employees, whose medical expenses are covered by their companies," he said. (nvn/ind)